Printer Fred Higgins has left his print on the local community for 43 years, from helping fiancees announce their matrimony to enabling business people to network and reach customers via business cards.
Higgins, 82, symbolizes value and stability. He has been a downtown Hendersonville business owner for 43 years, since 1970. That is when he bought out Quality Press at 422 Fourth Ave E., from Mary Sinclair of Sinclair Office Supply (SOS) who ran her press for two years.
Higgins moved his shop within Downtown Hendersonville, then again to 620 N. Main. Higgins Quality Press Inc. has been a fixture there for 30 years, since 1983. There are a handful of printing shops in town, compared to about a dozen 30 years ago, Higgins recalled.
But an era may soon end. Higgins told The Tribune he wants to soon retire and “slow down,” and thus sell the shop. He said he has garnered interest in it, so far for non-printing businesses.
In further reliability and stability, Higgins has kept his copy machine prices low for years. The self-service price started in 1975 at five cents per copy and has been seven cents for several years. The price for Higgins to do the copying is 10 cents per copy, though he might charge only seven for helping a customer. “We don’t make much,” Higgins said. His low seven-cent price is proudly posted in the window.
Demand for copying has not been as stable as his price. “This recession hit us, too. It hasn’t gotten much better yet,” he said. “Computers are taking it over.” Indeed, home-computer printing has eaten into both his main printing business and secondary copying service. Yet as Higgin notes there is value. “They can get a copy cheaper than they can print it out themselves. Even for one, and especially for a quantity” or word or image-filled documents eating up costly ink. “The printer at home is for convenience.”
The first copy machine in Higgins’ shop, in 1975, was a big Xerox. It whipped out 80 copies per minute. He invested $40,000 in two other machines. That “nearly broke me” financially. He now has three copiers, with one color and digital. Lily likes how a collator rapidly sorts, folds and stitches papers.
Since 1970 Higgins has printed such items as wedding invitations, business cards, letterheads and envelopes, and campaign signs.
The 1952 Hendersonville High School graduate is still slender, as when the band drum major and first came Bearcat onto the football field. He played trumpet, and baritone euphonium. He was an avid golfer.
Fresh out of high school, Higgins worked in printing for the Hendersonville Times-News for 18 years, to 1968. He was a print apprentice for seven years. He learned to meticulously set type, assembling letters into words. He finishes a line of print at a time. “One story might take you an hour to set,” he recalled.
Similarly, before computers he slowly crafted a project for hours in his printing shop. “We set the type by hand, letter by letter. It was tedious lining logos and print up and spacing it apart the way they wanted it.” Steps included photographing an image, then “stripping the negative on a sheet of paper, to cover the rest of the printing plate. All that shows through is what you’re using.” Then he burned the image onto a plate, which he ran off of a press for mass prints. Now photos can be digitally copied, such as for realtor cards.
Fred Higgins said in his trade ink gets not only on his hands, but “you get it in your blood.” His main inner reward remains to “see your finished work. In the early days, printers took such great pride in their work. It was tedious work, a long process. Today, it’s all done on the computer.”
Yet there is creativity in design. Higgins espouses simplicity and clarity. He emphasizes what is most important, in largest type size. “They’re more likely to be read. Many don’t read the ‘fine type,’” he reasoned. “So, don’t put too much on a business card or form, and particularly a flier.”
Fred and Suzanne Higgins’ daughter Leigh Ann Higgins teaches in Eastern North Carolina. Their son Robert Higgins does carpentry and maintenance, for Henderson County parks. Robert worked with Fred for more than 20 years, until recent months. He handled the press, with his young daughter Lily gently helping at times. “I did the camera work, and type setting,” Fred said. “We both waited on customers. Now, I do it all.”
He inadvertently did too much once, on a business card. “He had me print a $20 bill,” downsized to the card, Higgins recalled. The money image was at both ends only. The card was folded. When unfolded, it promoted the business, Higgins added. “He’d throw them on the street. People picked up what they thought was money.”
Higgins was surprised when, at his shop, two FBI agents, warned him not to print money imagery again. He complied. They noted one cannot reprint U.S. currency, even in small size and for fun. The reasoning is the image details could be used a basis for counterfeiting.
Higgins’ print shop is on Main Street’s block from Sixth to Seventh avenues. That block, like Fifth to Sixth Avenue to the south, has looked like a combat zone through the winter and spring as Main is remodeled. Traffic is closed there, intermittently. This is the third and final phase of repaving Main and its sidewalk, and enhancing “streetscape” aesthetics for shoppers.
The work has been delayed a month by wet weather, and could last well into June as tourism heats up, according to Interim City Manager Lee Galloway. City Engineer Brent Detwiler said the 500 block is nearly done, with paving last week and decorative lights. Remaining work is on a new fountain, sidewalk and utilities. The 600 block’s sidewalk is gradually taking shape.
Gentlemanly Higgins is concerned about customer inconvenience, from “that mess they made in front of my building. It’s killing me,” business-wise. He added, “I don’t know how much longer I’ll be around” as a shop owner.
But he looks ahead to the project’s decorative planters and a wide patio, which suits outdoor dining and thus expands future optional use of his site. There will be six diagonal parking spots in front.
Most sidewalk is already out by his shop. But a path remains to the front door. Patrons cannot park in front yet. Macon Bank is next door northward. In back eastward toward King Street is an alley, then Mountain Rug Mills. “Customers say how it’s tough to park,” Higgins said. “They’re parking all over town, to get here.”
The shop is open weekdays 11-5. For more on Higgins Quality Press Inc and its services, call Fred Higgins at 693-7289.